I firmly believe that there most illnesses can be prevented and many can be cured using what we can grow from the earth. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. Substituting certain fresh foods and/or herbs is a great way to get much of what ails you under control. I’ve listed some of my favorites here that you can grow in just about any climate and with little space. Potted plants take up little space and can really give you and your family the health boost you need!
Basil: Basil is a sweet, leafy herb that is used primarily in Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. Some types of basil will often have a hint of licorice flavor however, you can shop around for different basil varieties if that does not suit your pallet. You can chop or tear the leaves to add into your cooking or sprinkle on top of an already cooked dish. Basil is delicate but potent. A little of this herb goes a long way. Varieties of basil include: Thai, Sweet, Pesto/Genovese, Large Leaf, Cinnamon, and Lime.
Medicinal Qualities: The oils in dried basil tend to be weak, so fresh basil is usually better in both our cooking and in healing treatments. The main use of basil medicinally is as a natural anti-inflammatory. It is similar to the compounds found in oregano. The same compound that makes it useful as an anti-inflammatory is also believed to help combat rheumatoid arthritis and bowel inflammation. Basil is also high in antioxidents. Fresh basil leaves and basil oil have antibacterial properties. They can be used to disinfect surfaces. Leaves, when applied to wounds, could/may eliminate infections.
Plant Care: I highly suggest growing this herb in a pot or pots for different varieties as it will take over the garden. Make sure to prune your plant to help it bush out and stay healthy. A little shade is really good for this plant so that it does not bolt too early. If the plant begins to bolt, simply cut the flowering tips off to put off the bolting process. It will eventually bolt (as the temperatures warm and seasons grow) but that is also a perfect time to let the flowers and seeds dry on the plant to cut and re use the seed for the next year. Here in Texas, I can usually just cut back the plant and it will grow again the following year. Last year, however, we had a harder winter than normal and had to start again from seed. I suspect many of you will need to do as much in the more northern areas every year. I recommend watering daily (depending on the type of soil/pot/and outside temperature.
- Sage: Sage has sturdy leaves and stems but I would not call it a ‘woody’ herb (like rosemary). It has a strong flavor and aroma and is mostly used in Greek / Mediterranean dishes. You can add whole stems to cooking (remove before serving) or chop the leaves and add them to your recipe.
Plant Care: This plant is fairly easy to grow and grows best when it is pruned to encourage bushiness and new growth. It is fairly drought tolerant ( I have found) so water to keep the soil most but not wet. It is an oily plant so make sure it is planted somewhere that you will not brush against it too often as these oils can sometimes be hard to get out of clothes. I almost always encourage people to grow herbs in pots (as many herbs will ‘take over’ the garden area) but if you prefer to grow ‘in ground’ you can also take the bottom off of a clay pot and sink it into the dirt to help control the plants growth.
Medicinal Qualities: I have personally found that I have a cleaner home, emotionally, when I burn a sage stick every so often. See my post HERE for my how to make your own smudge sticks. Sage is used for digestive problems, including loss of appetite, gas, stomach pain (gastritis), diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn, depression, and memory loss. It is also used for reducing overproduction of perspiration and saliva. Some women use sage for painful menstrual periods, to reduce hot flashes, or to correct excessive mild flow during nursing. Sage can be applied directly to the skin for cold sores, gum disease, sore mouth, tongue or throat, and painful nasal passages (according to WebMD). Sage contains phytosterols, reported to have a cooling action. Sage also has been recommended as a hair rinse for oily hair, dandruff, or infections of the scalp. The essential oil of sage contains alpha- and beta-thujone, camphor, and cineole, which are antioxidant and antimicrobial agents. The volatile oils in sage kill bacteria, making the herb useful for all types of bacterial infections. Some people will use sage to darken greying hair – I do not have grey hair yet and can not attest to the truth of this but I would love to hear from any of you that have used it for this purpose.
- Thyme: Thyme (a member of the mint family) has small leaves and delicate stems. I consider this plant a ‘woody’ herb (much like rosemary). It is used mainly in Italian, Caribbean, and Jamaican cuisines. when cooking, you can use an entire sprig (discarding the stems before consuming), or strip the leaves to chop or sprinkle into dishes.
Medicinal Qualities: Provides better prevention against food borne bacterial infections, can help balance blood pressure, congestion, and coughs.
Plant Care: Care for this plant the same as you would basil. Make sure the soil does not dry out and prune regularly. I would also keep this herb in a pot or sink the top portion of a pot in the ground to help keep it growth under control.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is a woody herb with almost pine needle shaped leaves. It has a strong fragrance and is heavily oiled. It is mainly used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. You can add an entire sprig to your dish while cooking (making sure to remove the stem before serving) or finely dice the leaves and cook with your dish. A little really goes a long way with this plant.
Medicinal Qualities: This plant is another medicinal powerhouse. It can help improve memory and concentration and aid in digestion. When applied topically it can help relieve muscle and joint pain. Rosemary has great antioxident and anti-inflammatory compounds that help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation.
Plant Care: When I say this plant will take over I mean it. Ours is 4 years old and going strong in a pot by itself. Prune it regularly to encourage new growth (and keep it under control!). I water it frequently as it tends to dry out here in the heat though, it is a heat tolerant plant.
- Garlic: I can not sing the praises of garlic enough. We love garlic in our house. Garlic is versatile and can be used on pretty much any dish. If you don’t like the strong taste of garlic I recommend using Elephant Garlic. The cloves are larger but the taste is much more mild.
Medicinal Properties: Allicin!!! is the key ingredient responsible for the broad-spectrum of anti-bacterial activity in garlic. Research also showed that allicin is responsible for lipid-lowering(to significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels without hurting beneficial HDL cholesterol levels), anti-blood coagulation, anti-hypertension, anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-microbial effects. It also can help reduce the risk of heart disease by by decreasing the stickiness of platelets, which are tiny disk-shaped bodies in the blood that are necessary for blood clotting. Garlic has also been shown to reduce pain and other symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis! One of the oldest uses of garlic, however, is as an antibiotic. Garlic kills a range of microbes, including: viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. IT can be effective against such conditions as athlete’s foot, thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth), viral diarrhea, and the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori however, only fresh garlic or supplements that mimic it have these effects.
Plant Care: If you have the room I suggest planting several cloves at a time using the directions provided to you for that particular variety. To be completely honest I’ve not personally grown garlic yet. That is something we hope to do this Fall for the coming year (which means I’d better get on it!). The good thing about garlic is that as it grows you can cut and use the scapes to cook with!
- Mint: Mint is delicious if you’ve not cooked with it before! I suggest baking with it. We personally grow Peppermint, Spearmint, Orange Mint and Chocolate Mint (yes, I just said chocolate mint). We cut the excess, dry out the leaves, and will steep our own flavored teas. Mint is very aromatic and great to keep around the house if you’re growing your herbs indoors!
Medicinal Qualities: There are 18 species and hundreds of varieties of mint however two stand out for their medicinal properties: spearmint (M. spicata) and peppermint (M. piperita). Peppermint leaf tea is used to treat a variety of different ailments including: indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, colds, headache and cramps. Peppermint Oil, however, is primarily used for treating ailments such as: gastrointestinal spasms; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic condition characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation or, less frequently, diarrhea; and inflammation of the oral mucosa (but not for inflammation of the bile duct or gall bladder or severe liver damage).( *Do not ever apply peppermint oil to the noses of infants or small children without consulting your physician as the menthol vapors can cause choking). Spearmint has a much longer history of relieving these ailments but has more recently been pushed to the back burner in favor of peppermint. Use whichever is more useful to you.
Plant Care: Mint is very easy plant to grow and manage! It is very easy to start from seed if you like. As I said, Mr. Mad Hatter and myself grow 4 different varieties. I cut them back during the late fall and they come right back in the spring (even after a harder winter here in Texas). If you are growing mint outside I suggest letting it bolt, saving the seed, and re planting the following spring if the plants do not come right back up. Prune regularly (which makes it easy to hang dry the leaves to use for teas etc) to encourage growth.